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Intellectual Property 101: What is a Patent?
August 04, 2021

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office ("PTO") provides extensive online resources on its website. While much of the content may be directed to patent and trademark practitioners to perform filings and access regulations, some of the more general information is geared to the general public for educational and practical use. Recently, the PTO updated a general information page that includes excellent discussions of the various aspects of Intellectual Property law. This webpage is extensive, but we have reproduced some of the most relevant sections of interest.

Some people confuse patents, copyrights, and trademarks. Although there are similarities among these kinds of intellectual property, they serve distinct purposes.

What is a Patent?
A patent for an invention is the grant of a property right to the inventor, issued by the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Generally, the term of a new patent is 20 years from the date on which the application for the patent was filed in the United States or, in special cases, from the date an earlier related application was filed, subject to the payment of maintenance fees. U.S. patent grants are effective only within the United States, U.S. territories, and U.S. possessions. Under certain circumstances, patent term extensions or adjustments may be available.

The right conferred by the patent grant is, in the language of the statute and of the grant itself, “the right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling” the invention in the United States or “importing” the invention into the United States. What is granted is not the right to make, use, offer for sale, sell or import, but the right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, selling or importing the invention. Once a patent is issued, the patentee must enforce the patent without aid of the USPTO.

There are three types of patents:

  1. Utility patents are granted to anyone who invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, article of manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof;
  2. Design patents are granted to anyone who invents a new, original, and ornamental design for an article of manufacture; and
  3. Plant patents are granted to anyone who invents or discovers and asexually reproduces any distinct and new variety of plant.

If you have questions about U.S. patents or any other aspect of intellectual property law, please contact your Spilman attorney.

Intellectual Property William P. Smith